Lately I have been surrounded on all sides with people who are going through their own secret sorrows.

People who look fine and dandy on the outside. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that the world is in the palm of their hands. Yet inside they are fighting with all their might to keep that smile in place to mask the heartbreak going on.

All this worry and sorrow going on around me has made me realize more than ever how much we don’t know about even good friends. There is so much we don’t see from our vantage point from the tip of the iceberg. It has reminded me to be more gentle and non-judgmental than ever before.

In wishing I had a magic wand to fix some of the tough stuff going on for my friends I was reminded of the awesome message connected to this link someone forwarded me a while ago.

I loved it. It talks about how sometimes it would be nice if we all wore signs around our necks about the tough stuff we are facing so we could be reminded to be gentle with one another. I was so taken by how much those thoughts prompted me to be aware of what others may be going through, especially if they are being nasty or selfish or unfeeling.

There was a day shortly after I read that post that I wished I had my own “sign” around my neck: “Please be gentle with me. I desperately need sleep and I’m trying with all my might to hold it together enough to balance some things out.”

It was a day when I was trying to get the last minute things done before I left town: babysitter lists, schedule written out, carpools fixed, etc.

Dave had been out of town (which of course results in no sleep because I have no will power) and I was trying to single-handedly get everyone where they needed to be. I had two different deadlines for articles I had to write and I was behind on figuring out the outline for what my mom and I wanted to say at Time Out for Women in two days.

I was extra behind on everything because I had spent the entire afternoon before with the Young Women and that morning “shadowing” Elle at the junior high for “shadow a student day” (one of my most favorite days of all the year). The sad thing is that I had to talk Elle into letting me come in the first place.

Is that sad or what?I told her I promised to be good and not wear a crazy outfit or yell out in class (yeah, like I’d do that), so she consented to let her poor mother tag along. But I had to spend half my time “shadowing” her secretly texting our whole ward (church congregation) to try to find enough drivers to help get all the Young Women to the lake for our annual lake trip that afternoon (I had mistakenly thought we’d be turning people away rather than trying to recruit them). I was drowning in a sea of “things to be done” for those in my stewardship when my own family needed me even more.

I was trying to hold it together.

I packed all the kids to and from Elle’s volleyball game (she did great BTW, more on that later).

On the way home I realized I had no purse. Max was sure it was at the volleyball game so we raced back to see if we might be able to find it before it was stolen or locked up…irretrievable until well after my early flight the next morning when I would need it.

As I sat in my car at a stoplight imagining what I could say to sweet-talk them into letting me board a plane with no driver’s license I was too immersed in my own worry to notice a car was trying to get over into my lane from the turning lane. When the driver finally caught my attention she gave me the meanest look in all the land. (I think it’s interesting how sometimes a simple look, if it’s mean enough, can make you want to just curl up in the corner and cry).

At first I was mad right back. I longed to have a sign to tell her to “Be Nice! I’m having a rough week!” But then I realized my sign wasn’t really what mattered. I needed to be reminded that I should think about what her sign would say if she had one around her neck. Maybe she was under some serious pressure at work. Maybe her marriage was falling apart. Maybe someone died. Or maybe she was just having a rough day.

I’ll never know.

But whatever it was, I just love that little reminder to give people the benefit of the doubt.

People all around us are going through their own secret struggles we may never see because they are deeply embedded in their troubled hearts.

And we just need to love them unconditionally.

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  1. So true! I think we all have a tendency to get so wrapped up in our own lives and our own moments of chaos that we don't consider what is happening to those around us.
    Instead of instantly judging someone it is better to take a step back and give them the benefit of the doubt.
    Thanks for the thought!

  2. I read that story last year. I was going through a really hard time myself and it really hit home. Things are going much better now, and how quickly you forget. Thanks for reminding me, it was great reading the story again.

  3. Wow, this is so true! In my high school, there are so many judgmental people it's crazy. It would be nice to wear those so people could be reminded that no one is perfect. My sign would read "Colleges might want me, but no one else does." I get good grades, but I don't have any true friends. I just put on a smile to save face. Works every time!

  4. thanks for posting!
    I had read Melody's story before, but reading it again, really spoke to me. maybe because I could use a whole lot of kindness right now and I KNOW i could be giving kindness/compassion as well!
    thank YOU
    I shared the link on Facebook!

  5. Thanks so much for making it to TOFW in Richmond even though you had such a rough week. I am sure it is so hard to leave your kids to make it there, but I loved seeing you! Such a good reminder to think about what other's signs would be and that we are all carrying those secret sorrows and worries. That is my big goal for this year….not to judge, at all, even though it is tempting. Along with that I need to be more compassionate.

  6. I sat at the doctor's office yesterday thinking exactly these same thoughts. As I sat there thinking about my own loss of the day (my aunt had passed away in the morning)I began thinking about the secret lives behind each of the women around me. It's a humbling thought to think of some of the issues they may have been dealing with in that moment.

    Amazing how much alike we all really are.

  7. thanks shawni–
    i needed that today. with a sick baby who has croup and isn't only worse today after getting a steroid shot at the dr. yesterday and wants only for me to hold him all. the. time. and me getting over the same darn cold he has and a husband who has a crazy week and probably won't be home before 9 every day this week, and halloween parties to plan and family drama to deal with, etc., i've been feeling the same way! and, today, some lady completely cut me off and almost made me swerve into the oncoming lane of traffic with other cars zooming toward me and of course all kids in my car. i was mad…really mad, and i really wanted to make her stop so i could just yell and scream at her and tell her that she almost killed my kids. but, i tried really hard to imagine whatever was going on with her that made her think she had to save that 30 sec. by cutting me off. anyway, it's nice to know we're all going through stuff. thanks!

  8. Reminds me of a favorite quote: "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." I've been thinking about this a lot and I agree that we need to give people the benefit of the doubt because we have no idea how their experiences have shaped their perspective. A great post! Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Hi Shawni! This is Lauren, Jason and Kodi's niece. I met you at TOFW in Richmond. I have to say, I totally agree! You never know what someone else is going through. I recently had an experience with an aquaintaince that I thought was snubbing me, but (of course) it turned out that she had just been through a terrible personal tragedy. You really never know.

    If you get a chance to stop by my blog, that'd be great!

  10. I second Tara's comment, thank you for coming to Richmond despite the rough week! I had a wonderful time at Time Out for Women and was seriously rejuvenated… which I see now as a tremendous blessing because I came home to a 3 yr old with Strep and Hand, Food, and Mouth disease. And I'm trying my best to make sure none of the rest of us get it, which is a battle in itself! Your message of making our days more holy is changing my life this week, because getting a 3 yr old to take medicine when he can't even swallow is an uphill battle, but I'm trying to remember to make it holy. Anyway, that was a long aside, but thank you for making it out to Richmond! You, your mom, and the rest of the presenters were surely inspired!

  11. What a great post- and reminder to us all! I think of this often when I get cut off or someone is rude to me in a store- I try to point out to my kids that maybe that person is on their way home from the hospital, visiting a loved one or just received some bad news- we just never know. I put a link to this post of my FB page- you might have some new readers! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I recently gave a talk(twice) to groups of young single adults. My talk was titled " life is not always as it seems".

    I painted the Christmas card picture of my life— then I went back and filled in the missing pieces. Both times I had young adults come up to me and share their struggle.

    You are spot on- we must try to remember others have struggles as do we. We need to Love More!!

  13. I'm so glad to find your blog! I was at TOFW in Richmond, and I loved you and your mom's presentation! I told my mom about it, and she said that your mom and dad were the mission president and wife of my dad in England…Elder Kennedy. He was kind of goofy from TN. ha. My sign would read, "Please don't think I'm lazy, fat, and tired for no reason…I'm eating this ice cream because I'm in the early stages of pregnancy…" haha. Thanks so much for your words of inspiration! I'm excited to put all of your ideas to use as I prepare for motherhood! Thanks for making it exciting.

  14. I laughed as someone I was talking to on the phone said, "You just have the perfect life." I had just come home from the doctor for tests on some health problems, my house was a WRECK due to said health problems, my son was just diagnosed with ADHD and is so loveable but so difficult to parent. My life is wonderful and I am so blessed but it is so far from perfect. I just don't complain about my challenges because people generally don't like to hear about them.

  15. Wow. You always give me so much to think about. I often get so caught up in my own life that I just stop thinking about others…at least REALLY thinking about them. I need to apply this to my kids more as well. They aren't just grumpy or inconsiderate or needy. They have actual real emotions, feelings and needs that need to search for, understand and meet. Thanks for the reminder!

  16. This makes me think of an article I read years ago by Elder Bednar in the Ensign. He said that Sister Bednar prays to have "spiritual eyes" so that she can see and meet the needs of those around her.

    The community I grew up in was just rocked by a tragic suicide of a 17 year old boy. It makes everyone wonder if he might not have taken his life if those around him, especially his peers, might have given him a little bit more of what he needed–kindness, gentleness, sympathy, compassion.

    Well written.

  17. A beautifully written post. I think about this topic a lot. A few years ago I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from being at the hospital all day with my newborn who was in ICU following heart surgery…the four kids at home needed a few necessities…and wasn't treated very nicely by a woman who was having a bad day of her own. It was all I could do to not burst into tears and tell her whatever her problem was I had been through worse that day! Since that experience, whenever I encounter someone who is "not so nice" I remind myself that they may have just lost a loved one, or a job, or have a child in the hospital, etc. It helps me be more patient and forgiving of others. You are right, we really have no idea what they are going through.

  18. Thank you for the post and the link. I think if we all wore "signs" we would see each other as our Savior does.

    We are going to put together a young women's youth night based on this idea. You have me thinking…..

  19. Thanks Shawni for this post- I've been near tears all day about things I can't talk about. I appreciate your thoughts and the reminder that others harbor these kind of pains too. I really appreciate your blog and who you are. All the best.

  20. Oh man! Young Womens is about enough to put me over the top! I have been the president for almost two years now and even though we have lots of fun together, it can be so much stress! I too have found myself in many texting-at-the-final-hour while juggling family stuff (like my 3 year old throwing that 5p.m. tantrum) at THE SAME TIME! I don't know how you do it! I ask myself that same question all the time and somehow, things get done and my mind seems to remember the stuff it needs to.

    I love that sign story too! I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder!

  21. Thanks for the link – I LOVED the post!! We all need to be gentle with others as we never know what they are going through.

    Also I have to say I LOVE your blog, my most fav blog of all!!!! Funny how we come from such different backgrounds, religions, countries and yet we have one big thing in common, we are both Mums and that is what I love about your blog.

    I have learnt so much from you and look forward to every post because you share so much and are so honest.

    Love your blog and you have an amazing family (your Mum and Dad are amazing) and thanks for all the time you put into helping us Mum all over the world even with such a hectic schedule.

    Wishing you a few easier weeks ahead.

  22. What a great post. I am sitting here with tears because this is so TRUE. I always try to teach my children to look for the good in others. I think we all have a story but do we take time to hear it from others. To really know what they are going through. So good to be reminded of how we look and think of others. Thank you for sharing this!

  23. Like Michelle, I became keenly aware of this upon leaving my newborn in the PICU, literally fighting for her life. Standing in a checkout aisle with bread, milk and macaroni and cheese that some dear ward member would feed my 2 and 4 year olds… I suddenly realized that for 29 years I had thought I could see… and yet, I was, and still am blind to the biggest things in people's lives.

    It truly changes everything, every interaction, every sense of frustration or anger when you start to look beyond yourself.

    Beautiful and oh, so very very important.

  24. I posted a very similar sentiment in my own blog last week. It was just a few days before my bilateral mastectomy and I had so much on my mind that I had the rude driver incident and thought, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt more. We all have a "sign" as you put it ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love your blog and always feel very uplifted by it. Thanks for giving us a few minutes of your time to share.

  25. I feel bad for writing a not so nice comment on your blog awhile ago. Please forgive me. Sometimes I am just jealous of you and your family.

    The commandment not to covet is a hard one at times. My problem is that I suffer with perfectionism and I often compare my life and myself to others.

    Your life seems so perfect. Yet I know many blogs are deceiving and make people's lives appear perfect when, like you said, they are "going through their own secret sorrows."

    I'm jealous of you because it seems like you have found the fountain of youth. You look so young! It's hard to believe that you have older kids. You are in amazing shape, tall and skinny like a model and you seem so athletic and adventurous. You are like Mary Poppins – perfect in every way! Your make-up and hair looks amazing in all your pictures. You always have really cute, trendy clothes on.

    I'm jealous because it seems like you have it all, the perfect, Ken-Barbie doll husband, the perfect, dream home, the perfect family, perfect vacations, etc.

    I'm jealous of your kids and wish I had the childhood they have. I've always dreamed of a cool swimming pool like that – but only ever had those cheap, small, plastic pools to play in when I was like 3 years old. (When I got older, I had to wait for my mom to take me to the public swimming pool)

    I wish I had brand name clothes to wear to school – especially in high school when that was important to me. I think my high school experience would have been better if I was in your kid's shoes and had nice clothes to wear and had a mom show me how to wear make-up and do my hair, etc. I would have gotten asked to more dances and had more friends. i.e. I could have been one of the "popular" kids.

    I'm also jealous of your kids because they have a dad who is there for them and loves them. My dad married someone else and I was faced with the difficult decision to not invite my dad to my wedding. I'm jealous of your kids because they never have to make such a hard, painful decision. They have parents that have a perfect, happy marriage that can both be present at their weddings.

    Your girl's are so lucky to have a dad who will pay for their weddings (my dad didn't pay for my wedding and my mom is broke from the divorce, so I had to charge it to my credit card.)

    Anyways, your girls are lucky because they probably don't have to worry about putting a wedding together on a very small, tight budget.

    Your photography is incredible and your kid's will have beautiful professional pictures to treasure for a lifetime. I wish I had better wedding pictures and professional-like pictures growing up.

    Your kids are lucky because if they ever had financial problems in the future you can step in and help them out.

    Overall I think I am jealous because it seems like your family has no financial problems.

    I am a newly wed and feel like I can't have kids because we drowning in lots of debt from 2 credit cards and student loans).

    You are so lucky to have as many kids as you want and be able to afford to give them an incredible childhood with music lessons, wonderful vacations, nice clothes, birthdays, Christmases, etc.

    The trick for me is to not focus on what others have and what I don't have, but rather focus more on what I do have. As I count my blessings, then I am more content with my life and not jealous of others. Gratitude makes what I have be enough.

    Actually, as I have written this long comment, I have been thinking of all my blessings. So I'm not so jealous anymore but happy for your family.

    Your blog does get me excited for motherhood. One of these days when I have the money, I would love to get a camera like yours and get into photography. So you do inspire me in those areas. I hope I can be an amazing mom and photographer like you someday.

    -Brittany ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. "In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see. Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow Thee."

    These lines from the hymn "Lord I Would Follow Thee" come to mind when I ponder this subject.

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